Sight, for the unseen
Contractors face the unknown when they tackle problems hidden inside closed structures. Stud sensors and electronic scanners — two still-evolving technologies that use radar to locate objects behind or embedded in materials — can help, but their ability to identify wood and metal framing, electrical wiring, broken or lost parts, misplaced tools, and other critically important objects is limited.
Fortunately, there’s another category of electronic tools that can actually see into closed cavities.
Variously known as videoscopes, fiberscopes or borescopes, these instruments typically have a miniature closed-circuit camera mounted at the tip of a flexible transmission cable. This camera sends real-time images to a hand-held viewing screen or to the user’s laptop computer. Some models record video or capture still images for later examination, while others use wireless technology to transmit images to a remote computer.
Terry Buckner, owner of Watermark Restoration in Houston, owns and uses two videoscopes — one he’s had for 11 years and a second unit he bought recently. "It’s an invaluable tool," he said. "It helps when we have to go in behind the wall, especially if there’s cabinetry we don’t want to tear out. And our customers like it because we don’t have to do a lot of damage to fix something."
Videoscopes have evolved from highly sophisticated (and often prohibitively expensive) equipment developed for scientific, medical and security applications. Buyers today can find basic units for less than $100. Specialized or full-featured videoscopes are costlier, but their value when compared with the expense of tearing open a wall or destroying ductwork to see into the interior is inestimable.
General Tools & Instruments recently introduced the iBorescope video inspection system that generates its own Wi-Fi hotspot, which allows the instrument to communicate wirelessly to Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads (compatibility with other operating systems will soon be available). This enables users to view and save high-definition images and video on their own devices, eliminating the need for an attached monitor and allowing the information to be easily shared.
With more than a dozen borescope models in its catalog, General offers the widest product range of any manufacturer. According to VP brand development Peter Harper, the scopes have soared in popularity in just the past year or two because "the prices have come down so much," and a greater variety of products is available. "We’re selling to home renovators, home inspection companies, plumbers, auto mechanics — anyone who has to look inside something or behind a wall," he said.
Snap-On, a tool distributor that caters to automotive and building trades, offers a wireless digital video scope (model BK8000) that allows users to record and play back still images and video clips on an attached 4.3-in. LCD display monitor. Images can be stored in the unit’s internal memory or on removable SD memory cards; a USB port is also provided for downloading to a computer.
Milwaukee Electric Tool produces several versions of its M-Spector electronic camera and inspection scopes, including wireless and console models. Hand-held models have 2.7-in. high-resolution color LED screens; rotating screens on some models add versatility when used in space-restricted locations. Hook, magnet and mirror attachments are available to enable users to retrieve as well as view objects in otherwise inaccessible cavities.
Ridgid, a manufacturer of hand tools and equipment for the plumbing trade, makes a SeeSnake video system designed for drain and sewer inspection. Units include waterproof, reel-mounted video cables up to 325-ft. in length, and monitors with LCD screens up to 10.4 ins. for hands-free viewing or recording to a built-in DVD player.
For those with a limited budget, Triplett Test Equipment & Tools offers the budget-minded CobraCam USB2 (model 8105) portable video inspection camera that has no monitor of its own but performs many of the same functions as higher-priced units. A USB connection powers the unit and lets users view and save color images on their own PC or Mac computer.
When it comes to determining which type of videoscope to buy, Harper of General Tools says selection is usually based on what your needs are.
"If you just need to look, that’s one thing; if you need to record what you see, that’s something else," he said. "You can choose how much you have to spend on a unit." And because prices continue to fall even as features and functions increase, it’s a good bet that videoscopes will ultimately find a place in almost every toolbox.
Please touch the merchandise
Las Vegas — The 2013 National Hardware Show again proved itself to be a stomping ground for new-product junkies. From areas called "Innovation Station" and "Pet Pavilion" — as well as press conference rooms and show-floor demonstrations — came a huge variety of potential margin boosters, door busters or simply sales opportunities. Here are a few.
Crescent Flip and Grip Wrench
The Crescent Flip and Grip Wrench features a unique pivoting jaw that fits over 50 sizes or types of fasteners, and helps reach around obstacles and into tight spaces for numerous projects at home or on the job. Apexhandtools.com
Generac LP5500 Portable Generator
Generac’s new portable generator allows the LP fuel tank (20 or 30 lbs.) to ride within the chassis itself. Its PowerDial integrates all of the starting and operating controls into a single mechanism. Generac.com
Invisiplug has developed a power strip to blend into the look of hardwood floors. The plastic mold-injected, wood grain-designed power strip provides consumers with a clean, seamless option. Invisiplug power strips are available in Light Natural, Medium Cherry and Dark Oak. Invisiplug.com
Xodus Motion Sensing Deck Light
The battery-operated LED deck light provides accent lighting at night and floods the deck surface with light when motion is detected. It gradually changes light level as motion is detected to soften lighting transitions. The patented "Low Glow Technology" extends battery life to a year with three "C" alkaline batteries using the low light level setting. The lights are also weatherproof for outdoor use. Xodusinnovations.com
DesignMod Smoothline Flush-Mount Wallplate System
The patent-pending and UL-approved Smoothline wallplate system offers a way to install outlets and switches flush with the wall using standard dry-wall finishing techniques. Designmod.com
Olympia Tools Turbofold Utility Knives
The Turbofold utility knives feature 25% more blade-cutting surface, an ergonomic thumb pad, stainless steel construction, quick blade-change dial and anodized aluminum handle. The knives also offer five positions to accommodate different cutting angles. Olympiatools.com
DeWalt professional mechanics tools
DeWalt has introduced a new line of professional mechanics tools, including ratchets, sockets, wrenches and sets. The ratchets are available in three sizes and feature a 72-tooth gear system and 5-degree actuation angle. The socket rails are available in a range of SAE and metric sizes, and feature deep laser-etched markings for easy identification and high visibility. The combination wrenches tout an anti-slip design on the open end jaw that locks the wrench on the fastener to deliver 400% more gripping power, and helps to prevent slippage that results in scraped knuckles. Dewalt.com
Magid Touchscreen Compatible Garden Glove
Magid Glove & Safety Manufacturing Co. has launched a new touchscreen compatible garden glove. This new version of the Touchscreen ROC (T-ROC) enables the user precise input without having to remove her gloves. With an electro-conductive copper and nylon blended liner, the T-ROC allows the transfer of an electric current — this is what makes the touchscreen work. Compatible with all touchscreen devices, the T-ROC is form-fitted and has a polyurethane-dipped palm for extra grip. Magidglove.com
Daredevil Framing Blades
Daredevil Framing Blades are made with thin-kerf, extra-hard steel plate blades with triple-sharp carbide teeth that power through wood to deliver a combination of speed and a smooth finish. A Speed Coat finish provides added speed and avoids binding in treated or wet lumber. The blades also feature control-cut shoulders for reduced kickback and expansion slots to control blade warp. Bosch.com
Dow Building Solutions Great Stuff
Great Stuff Pestblock Insulating Foam Sealant is formulated with a bitter ingredient to block insects and pests from entering the home by sealing gaps, cracks and holes. It expands to fill, seal and insulate gaps up to 1 in., forming a long-lasting, airtight, water-resistant barrier. Greatstuff.dow.com
Arrow Fastener TacMate
The TacMate stapler is a compact, ergonomic tool with power equivalent to large, professional staple guns. The advanced polymer housing construction is durable yet still lightweight, and the shorter grip span makes it comfortable for hours of continued use. The non-marring tip is designed to help protect the work surface from any scratches or dents that can be caused by the tool. Arrowfastener.com
HomeRight Titanium Series Paint & Stain Sprayers
The Titanium Series paint and stain sprayers feature the patented Flex-Pro suction tube for drawing the paint or stain into the sprayer. They also have a check valve, which prevents paint from running out of the suction tube. In addition, the Titanium sprayers have adjustable flow control, which makes it easy to control the spray pattern. Homeright.com
Opportunity shines in bulb aisle
Federal efficiency regulations have spurred change in the light bulb industry, and that is good news for hardware dealers whose expertise can set them apart and help grow market share.
Nate Jones, store manager at Yoder’s Shipshewana Hardware, Shipshewana, Ind., is seeing that firsthand. Since a Do it Best reset in February, the 36-ft. lighting aisle at Yoder’s has illuminated in more ways than one. "I don’t have exact sales numbers yet since the reset, but we have done really well with the assortment," he said. "It makes it look like we are in the business of selling light bulbs. The reset was fabulous."
The category is no longer as simple as buying a package of 60- or 100-watt incandescents off the shelf. What’s forcing widespread changes in lighting is the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The law leaves three alternate technologies for most residential lighting: halogen incandescents, CFLs and LEDs — all of which are more efficient than old-style bulbs while lasting up to 50 times longer.
Because of the influx of CFLs and now LEDs, the light bulb category is no longer a commodity, said Do it Best CEO Bob Taylor. "This gives the independents a great chance to remerchandise the category, educate your staff and capture a bigger segment of that business. And I think it’s going to be a more profitable business, too."
Following his store’s reset, Jones marked down his remaining incandescents by 50%, "just to get it out of here," he said. His lighting aisle consists mainly of CFLs and halogens, with about 2 ft. of LED bulbs.
Jones said the trend of energy-efficient, longer-lasting, albeit more expensive, light bulbs has changed the conversation in his store and given his salespeople a chance to educate the shoppers. "It’s not just about attractive displays that we put up — it’s about understanding the new language," he said. "You can’t talk about watts anymore; it’s lumens that we talk about. Kelvins is another conversation piece, because we are talking about color temperature. There’s a whole new way of thinking."
And shopping, as customers accustomed to choosing 60- and 100-watt bulbs now look for "equivalent" bulbs that determine similar light outputs for incandescent, CFL and LED bulbs. This smorgasbord of shapes, styles, output, color temperature and energy dovetails perfectly for the smart hardware store. "It’s definitely an opportunity for the hardware store, provided the [associates] are properly trained," said David Bigham, Orgill’s merchandise manager, electrical.
LEDs: No one disputes that LEDs are destined to become the leading bulb. Exactly when it supplants CFLs is conjecture. At Home Depot, LEDs are the fastest-growing segment of its light bulb business, according to Mark Voykovic, light bulb merchant, who said that during 2011, the LED category doubled in sales volume and is now more than 14% of all light bulb sales. "We have seen over a 500% increase in the sales of LEDs (2010 to 2012). These numbers clearly demonstrate that customers are gravitating toward the high-quality, energy-efficient lighting product despite its higher-than-average price point," he said.
While price is currently an impediment to LEDs reaching critical mass, Voykovic said that as demand increases and technology advances, prices will come down. Home Depot is marketing a new Cree brand LED and Eco Smart 40W equivalent for $9.97 (compared with $20 a few years ago), and a Cree LED 60W equivalent for as low as $12.97. "Combine that with local rebates, and the Cree LED can be the same price as an incandescent light bulb," Voykovic said.
In most cases, though, the price delta between CFLs and LEDs is significant. Bigham said LEDs "are sure not going to take over anytime soon — there is still a pretty significant difference from a cost stand-point from CFLs to LEDs."
Bigham sees LEDs and CFLs coexisting in the marketplace based on the need for different applications. "That’s where asking the right questions with the customer in your store is important," he said.
Voykovic sees a parallel between the adoption rate of new-age LED light bulbs and some consumer electronics products. "Just like flat-screen TVs, LED bulbs started selling at a higher price and are now dropping as technology and manufacturing become more efficient," he said. "Competitive pricing and new innovations in light bulb technology will be essential for survival in the lighting industry moving forward."
Tom Boyle, chief innovation manager, GE Lighting, said that based on consumer research, the size and shape of the LED bulb is important to shoppers. "As LED technology continues to evolve, producing the same quality of light with smaller bulbs will allow consumers to be more creative with lighting," he said. "LEDs can change the way we light our homes."
Short term, Boyle predicts that prices will continue to drop as efficiencies are realized in drivers and chips, thereby leading to wider adoption.
["It’s definitely an opportunity for the hardware store, provided the [associates] are properly trained."]
— David Bigham, Orgill’s merchandise manager, electrical